PFIR - People For Internet Responsibility
PFIR Proposal for a Representative
Global Internet Policy Organization

December 6, 2000

PFIR Home Page

In the "PFIR Statement on Internet Policies, Regulations, and Control" (July, 2000), we proposed the creation of a new international organization to coordinate and help establish recommended policies and standards for the Internet. The goal of such an organization would be the furthering of fair and balanced availability, growth, and usefulness of the Internet on a global basis to benefit the entire world's population, not just particular regions or interest groups.

It has become increasingly obvious that some entities currently involved in Internet policy making, including ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) and the U.S. Dept. of Commerce, are incapable of adequately addressing the broad international aspects and issues relating to the Internet. This is true even to the limited extent (if any) that they might consider such non-parochial concerns to be within their mandated purview. The above referenced PFIR document discusses why we feel that a new international organization would be beneficial in addressing many of these matters in a useful and proactive manner.

We now propose a possible framework for the organization that we previously postulated. We wish to emphasize that this is merely a basic concept put forth as a starting point for thought and discussion, not as a fully-formed proposal. There are myriad details and problems (some of a fundamental nature) that would need to be enumerated, understood, and/or solved before any such organization such as we envisage could become a reality.

The perceived lack of fair and balanced representation in the creation and promulgation of Internet policy is a critical shortcoming with the existing entities engaged in this area. We therefore suggest that for the proposed new organization, a structure similar in some respects to (but differing in many important aspects from) that of the United Nations might be a useful starting point.

We visualize an international organization (presumably a non-profit corporation) to which a large number of global representatives will input ideas and votes regarding a wide range of Internet-related issues. This organization, as mentioned above, would serve to help formulate recommended policies and standards regarding the Internet, but significantly, it would not encompass any enforcement powers.

Nationalities provide a natural unit on which to base representations in a global organization, but do not in and of themselves represent the varied interests of Internet users. We therefore suggest a number of delegates from each country (and other agreed-upon political units) who would be the basis of such a representative body. Henceforth in this discussion we will use the term "country" when referring either to nations or to other political units being included within the organization.

One possible organizational structure would include five delegates from each country, apportioned as one delegate from each of the following five categories:

  • Business
  • Government
  • Education
  • Public policy, public interest, and non-profit organizations
  • Citizens and residents

There are of course other reasonable ways to organize these or additional categories. Each individual delegate would have a single vote, both when voting on issues relating directly to their particular category and when voting on issues brought before the main body of the organization. The manner in which these delegates would be chosen could and presumably would vary between countries, and would be a matter for internal discussion and decision within each such country, though suggestions and guidance in this regard might well be available from the larger organization itself (but would not be binding).

We view the complex issues of the Internet as being best handled through this form of representative framework. We do not envision global "Internet user" votes on policy matters, since such votes appear completely unworkable, easily manipulated, and impossible to validate.

There are many potential issues and problems to be resolved in considering the creation of such an organization. One obvious matter is establishing the list of entities who would be empowered to participate in the representative forum, as relates to countries that are subject to trade, communication, or other embargoes set in place by other nations. Similarly, groups of individuals claiming national status who might not be generally recognized globally as such is as another difficult topic. For now, we leave these issues, and various other important matters such as overall funding considerations, for upcoming analysis and discussion.

It is anticipated that this new organization would encompass both a general assembly including the full range of countries as described above, and a "guiding" assembly consisting of representatives of the countries with the largest current Internet populations (to be defined via an agreed-upon algorithm). The primary role of this guiding assembly would be to help direct high-level policy directions for the organization as a whole. No guiding or main assembly countries or delegates would possess any veto over the organization's decisions or recommendations. We expect that this proposed lack of veto powers may be a cause of possible consternation among some business and government interests, who may feel themselves to already be vested with the exclusive rights to determine the Internet's future. We believe that public discourse regarding this issue may be particularly interesting and illuminating.

We wish to reiterate that the scope of this organization would be directed towards the creation of recommended policies and standards concerning a broad range of global Internet issues, not the enforcement of such policies or standards. That having been said, it is hoped that the existence of a policy body with a truly representative and global nature would help to avoid many rapidly increasing problems currently affecting Internet issues and by extension many other facets of our societies. This new international organization could also help to minimize disillusionment and threats of major, long-term network fragmentations that have been arising within the current Internet regime.

There are no significant technical reasons why such new policies could not hold voluntary sway. Administrators and users of the Internet DNS (Domain Name System), for example, could at any time choose to turn away from the current root servers and direct their systems toward new domain naming environments. This same principle could hold true through a broad range of Internet-related issues.

There could be some risk of short-term confusion relating to the significant change in course that the creation of this new organization would entail. However, we believe that rational international policies will be sufficiently convincing to bring the various players together in a framework with much more long-term stability and fairness than the current ad hoc system.

The scope of this project is large, but we feel that it is completely possible and practical. By making use of Internet and other technologies, various potentially expensive aspects of such a global organization can be minimized. Physical meetings of the entire body of delegates might well be unnecessary, or at least be relatively rare. E-mail, telephone communications, video-conferencing, and other readily available technologies could serve for the bulk of ongoing communications.

Also, it would be unnecessary for this new organization to independently recreate technical expertise that already exists elsewhere. For example, technical subcommittees of the organization might involve entities such as ICANN or the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force), etc. to help implement the recommended technical policies of the organization. This would free these ostensibly technically-oriented groups from even the perception of being involved in policy creation and its related controversies.

When viewed in the context of the Internet's immense scope and growing importance, soon to underly so many aspects of our lives, the direction that we propose is by no means radical or extraordinary. In fact, it would be extraordinarily unwise and unforgivable to continue along the current course, with the fate of the global Internet effectively in the hands mainly of narrow interest groups and U.S. government agencies, whose power as relates to the Internet derive mainly from historical accident, not purposeful, balanced, or representative planning.

Again, there are many details that would need to be worked out in the course of creating the organization that we've outlined. But the moment to start down this difficult but necessary road is now. Too much time and energy have already been wasted amidst selfish bickering and polarization that threaten to reduce the shining promise of the Internet to the same sordid levels that we've come to expect in the modern political arenas. Surely we can do better than that.

We welcome your comments, suggestions, and viewpoints regarding this proposal. Thank you.

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Lauren Weinstein
lauren@vortex.com or lauren@privacyforum.org
Co-Founder, PFIR - People For Internet Responsibility - http://www.pfir.org
Moderator, PRIVACY Forum - http://www.vortex.com
Member, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy

Peter G. Neumann
neumann@pfir.org or neumann@csl.sri.com or neumann@risks.org
Co-Founder, PFIR - People For Internet Responsibility - http://www.pfir.org
Moderator, RISKS Forum - http://catless.ncl.ac.uk/Risks
Chairman, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy
http://www.csl.sri.com/neumann